Australia U-23 men’s national football team secured a place in the men’s football competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Saturday evening, defeating Uzbekistan 1-0 at Bangkok’s iconic Rajamangala Stadium.
The win over the White Wolves not only ensured that Australia will return to the Olympic Games in men’s football for the first time since Beijing 2008, it also meant that the green and gold finished a commendable third at the AFC U-23 Championship Thailand 2020 – their best ever finish at the 16-nation biannual tournament.
Australia’s appearance at this year’s Olympics was sealed with help from a fine goal early in the second half from Perth Glory marksman Nicholas D’Agostino.
Following the fixture in Bangkok Australia’s Head Coach in Thailand, Graham Arnold – who played for Australia at Seoul 1988, was an Assistant Coach with team in Athens 2004 and Head Coach of Australia in Beijing 2008 – hailed his side’s effort and attitude.
“I am really proud of the way they worked this whole tournament,” Arnold said. “Their attitude has been fantastic, we probably came in and we weren’t the strongest team in Asia, or close to being the strongest team, we were ranked number 11 in Asia when we came in.”
“To create what we have just achieved is so huge for Australian football because it is the first time that we have qualified for the Olympics for 12 years and I do know that when you have a great pathway, a great preparation for the Olympics, then it creates six or seven top Socceroo players and for the senior national team and that is very important.”
“That (game against Uzbekistan) would 100 per cent be the biggest game of their careers and their lives. They have not experienced anything like that at club land as well as obviously with the national teams, so it has been a wonderful learning process for the players and I felt that we dealt with it very well.”
Meanwhile, some of the team’s players shared their emotions and reactions post-game.
Captain Thomas Deng said: “With these kind of tournaments once you come to the end and you have reached your goal of qualifying for the Olympics, especially since 2008 we have failed many times, to finally get there and believe we are going is the biggest thing and it brings a lot of joy. I thank Rene (Meulensteen) and also ‘Arnie’ (Graham Arnold) for believing in us, and everything that they have done for us, it’s amazing.”
“It is a massive honour to represent Australia at the highest level. The past few months has been very good, we have learnt a lot. It feels so good to finally come to the end and you have achieved your goal. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys and also the staff who believed in us. I am just astounded and very happy.”
Goal scorer D’Agostino said: “It is a moment I am never going to forget, and it wasn’t just me, it was a team performance tonight. We had to fight right until the end and we know as Australia that we have the fight, the talent, and the courage to do a job. We wanted to come here and win the tournament and unfortunately it didn’t happen but we’re not taking anything away from the boys tonight, they did a fantastic job, we are through to the Olympics, we can’t be happier.”
Midfielder Keanu Baccus said: “I am over the moon. It is the most exciting feeling that I have had in my short career so far and hopefully more to come.”
Please find below post-match press conference vision and audio with Head Coach Graham Arnold, as well as reaction with a selection of players following the game. Players included in the reaction grabs are (in order of appearance) team captain Thomas Deng, goal-getter Nicholas D’Agostino, and Western Sydney Wanderers FC midfielder Keanu Baccus.